I was alone in a hallway, sitting in a molded plastic chair staring down at the green booties that covered my tennis shoes. The green booties were part of the green scrubs the nurses brought to me just after they took my wife away; the tennis shoes were just old, well-worn, scuffed-up tennis shoes. I think I’d had them for years. The hallway ran just outside the hospital’s surgical suites, and its tiled floor gleamed from cleanliness and buffed floor wax. The smell in that hallway was of antiseptic; the texture of the green scrubs they made me wear was dry and rough, thick, serious.
We had been in and out of hospitals because nobody knew how long my son Zachary would be willing to stay inside his mother. There had been anxious trips to the ER with bleeding and abdominal pain. The pain turned out to be contractions. There was the medication to stop the contractions, and my wife was ordered to several days of bed rest that drove her crazy. There had been ultrasound after ultrasound, and steroid injections.
All this had been made possible because my wife and I had found an obstetrician who specialized in women who were prone to miscarriages. While staring down at the green booties over my old, worn tennis shoes I recall what my wife told me about him. “His name is George, and he says that, if I can get pregnant, he can keep me pregnant.”
Getting her pregnant had never been challenging; staying pregnant was.
It turned out to be the shape of her uterus. “She has a bicornuate uterus,” the surgical team told me after the C–section that liberated Zachary from his mother. Bicornuate uterus; as if I would know what that meant.
Later I would find out it meant her uterus was heart-shaped, which had caused the placenta to begin detaching early; placenta previa. A bicornuate uterus does not necessarily mean no normal, full term pregnancies are possible; my wife had a full term pregnancy from a relationship prior to ours, and we would go on to have another son after Zachary.
It was this pregnancy that the shape of her uterus came into play.
A nurse came to get me as I sat in that gleaming hallway staring at my bootie covered tennis shoes. She took me gently by the arm and led me into the surgical suite. As we entered the room she announced: “The father is coming in.” Everything was sterile, including the doctors and other nurses. They were to let me pass without touching me, but had to be tolerant of my presence because I was “the father.” I was not to touch them, or anything else in the room. Though I was “the father,” it was still a privilege for me to be in the surgical suite among all of those sterilized people and things.
Early in this pregnancy, during the long days of bed rest, in anticipation of what might happen, the doctors and nurses had described for us the procedure they anticipated for Zachary when the decision was made to take him. He would be taken by caesarean section: an age-old procedure often attributed – incorrectly – to Julius Caesar. In Julius’ day the mother never survived the surgery; only the child lived, usually. Julius is well known for having a living mother. Etymologists have immersed themselves in determining the origin of that name. As I was brought in to be with my wife, I cared very little about any of that.
To this day I find myself not thinking about it much.
The nurse had sat me down in another molded plastic chair (no doubt sterile), next to my wife’s head. The surgical team talked among themselves, but I did not understand what they were saying. Occasionally there was the sound of metal instruments tapping against each other. When they told me they were taking him out they invited me to look up over the barrier that had been placed between the surgery and my wife’s head. I stood up just in time to see a tiny skinny naked little thing pulled out of what had to be her abdomen, though by that time it looked nothing like any abdomen I had ever seen.
Her disembodied head, blocked from the rest of her by that surgical screen, was smiling up at me as I watched the birth; she had an epidural going for her, and she claimed only to feel some tugging and a little pressure here and there. She had an epidural when our second son, who stayed in for the full forty weeks, was born. Tyler came into the world by the usual route, and my wife had an entirely different look on her face for that birth.
We all said hi to Zachary as they took him away in the incubator. I looked down at my wife’s smiling face. “He looks like a frog,” I said to her. “Kind of cute.”
When I sat back down I was not thinking about the cigars in their humidors I would hand out to all my buddies at work. I was also not thinking about what I wanted, hoped and dreamed for my son. It did not occur to me to hope for a professional athlete or a doctor, lawyer, or movie star.
He was three months premature, weighed all of two pound and four ounces. We could not hold him until they did an ultrasound on his head to insure the blood vessels were strong enough. He was hooked up to monitors and alarms that told everyone when he stopped breathing. He was fed through a tube down his throat.